Training Update: Bluebird in the Whites
by Maj. Malcolm Schongalla, LC-130 Pilot, US Air Force Reserves
The thermometer was in the single digits, and the winds atop Mount Washington were breaking 100 mph. ¬†Clear, cold, and not a cloud in the sky! ¬†It was the perfect weekend to get outside, and stretch the muscles on some New Hampshire ice.
Yesterday (26 Jan 2013), I had warmed up to the chilly temperatures on a short excursion up Mt. Cardigan. ¬†My dashboard read 5′F at thetrailhead,and the higher we climbed, the windier it got. ¬†The bald summit was buffeted by gusts topping 50 knots o rmore, but Kelly and I bundled up and took in a great panorama. ¬†The only obstacle to my view was condensation from my own breath, which relentlessly hung around my sunglasses.
Today, I was looking to venture a little farther afield, so Dartmouth ice climber Ted Sumers and I hit the road for Crawford Notch at dawn. Ted had chosen some classic, moderate, New England ice routes that he wanted to test his lead skills on. ¬†I was looking forward to testing out some adjustments on my gear. ¬†I had tweaked the fit on my crampons, and had some new layers of clothing to check out. ¬†We were soon on the approach at Mount Willard.
Our early start wasn’t enough to beat the first party to Cinema Gulley, so we backtracked to another great route called Left Handed Monkey Wrench. ¬†It was only 25 minutes from the car, and we soloed up some some easy water ice on what the guidebook euphemistically calls, “a rather sketchy approach.”
This route proved to be a nice, comfortable warm-up. ¬†After some easy WI-3 and some more hiking, we arrived at the start of the ever-asthetic Upper Hitchcock. ¬†Conditions were looking pretty fat, and we’d have no problem burying our longest ice screws. ¬†The striking,overhanging wall on climber’s left helped keep us nicely sheltered from the persistent wind. ¬†My layers were working out well. ¬†I had put my heavy mittens awaybefore the first gulley, and didn’t have to take them out again the rest of theday. ¬†My relatively lightweightsingle-leather boots were even keeping my feet warm in the frigid temps of the morning. ¬†My core was toasty, but not sweaty.
Upper Hitchcock topped out in a small alcove full of beautiful, delicate icicles. ¬†The sun reflected through them, and it reminded me of what I love most about climbingice. ¬†We rapped back down one ropelength, and sidestepped over to theexposed East Slabs of Mt. Willard to get in another route. ¬†At 2pm, we ticked off the coldest,longest, line of the day. ¬†The sun was asserting itself against the Arctic weather system, and we experienced adiverse spectrum of ice conditions all up and down the mountain. ¬†This is no Ouray Ice Park… ¬†From plastic to rotten, brittle to near-slush, ice routes in the White Mountains will keep you on your guard!
Making our way back to the car, I made note of the things I wanted to shore up during the next two months before Nepal. ¬†I’m going to upgrade the toe bails of my old Sabretooth crampons- ¬†BD now makes them with a metal tongue-and-ring that comes up over the toe of the boot, to mate with the anklestrap. ¬†The crampon adjustments kept the ‘pons firmly on my feet today, so I know they have potential. ¬†I’ve had problems with them in the past, and I won’t takethat chance on Lobuche. ¬†I’m also looking for suggestions for new boots for Nepal, and the crampons will have to fit those flawlessly, too. ¬†For layers, I need a bigger technical shell witha size “long” cut. ¬†And comparing yesterday to today, I felt a real benefit to wearing ski goggles instead of shades, that I haven’t previously noticed in warmer conditions.
Overall, a great weekend! ¬†Today’s bitter cold was an ironic contrast to the melting temperatures that slowed my operations in Antarctica last month. ¬†This winter is shaping up to be a great improvement over last year, in the Whites. ¬†And I’m looking forward to lots of trail climbing with heavy training backpacksduring the upcoming weeks!